Here's the latest incredible and unexpected development: We just found out that Luis Urrea will be joining us as a faculty member. Even better, he'll also be teaching a Memoir Master Class. In case you're not familiar with Luis, please be advised that he is a MAJOR addition to our faculty and is among the most sought-after writers in the country. His memoir, Nobody's Son: Notes from an American Life
won the American Book Award
. His novel The Devil's Highway
, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and won the 2004 Lannan Literary Award
as well as the Border Regional Library Association's
Southwest Book Award. In 2009 on a bit of a whim he wrote his first-ever mystery short story (“Amapola”) and won nothing less than an Edgar Award.
Luis's Memoir Master Class Workshop will be an intimate opportunity to learn from and work with a true master of the genre. You'll learn about story structure, powerful language, and writing with emotional honesty. Luis is a warm and engaging teacher whose experience and skills are second to none. Watch this short video to see him in action.
His memoir, Nobody's Son: Notes from an American Life
, tells a story that is both troubling and wildly entertaining. He is a master of language and a gifted storyteller who uses his dual-culture life experiences to explore greater themes of love, loss and triumph. Urrea endured violence and fear in the black and Mexican barrio of his youth. But the true battlefield was inside his home, where his parents waged daily war over their son's ethnicity. "You are not a Mexican!" his mother once screamed at him. "Why can't you be called Louis instead of Luis?" He suffers disease and abuse and he learns brutal lessons about machismo. But there are gentler moments as well: a simple interlude with his father, sitting on the back of a bakery truck; witnessing the ultimate gesture of tenderness between the godparents who taught him the magical power of love. "I am nobody's son. I am everybody's brother," writes Urrea.
The author of fourteen books, Luis Urrea has published extensively in many genres. His highly acclaimed historical novels The Hummingbird’s Daughte
r and Queen of America
together tell the story of Teresita Urrea, a great aunt who was a healer and Mexican folk hero at the tum of the 20th century. These two books, which involved more that 20 years of research and writing, are an epic work honoring the life of an incredible woman. Collectively The Devil’s Highway
, The Hummingbird’s Daughter
and his 2008 novel Into the Beautiful North
have been chosen by more than thirty different cities and colleges across the country for One Book community read programs.
The Memoir Master Class Workshop is destined to fill quickly. There are only 15 seats, so don't wait. Register for your seat now.
by David Dinner
If rejection sucks, starting over sucks cubed. A year ago, I wrote a blog for the Kauai Writers Conference about how painful it was to have the synopsis of my novel rejected by a freelance editor (or four.) Although at first it may seem a hideous joke, in the lunatic domain of novel writing, freelance editors get to pick and choose who will pay them to blast the writer’s carefully crafted words into oblivion. I had just turned in the blog post, called appropriately “Rejection,” to be printed, when I received a kindly sounding acceptance from a highly acclaimed editor. I was ecstatic. I was certain the Gods of Writing at last had heard my poorly camouflaged cry for help. So, after developing a warm email relationship with my new friend, an exceedingly open and supportive editor, and dusting up my manuscript as much as my patience would allow, I hustled the entire novel to her through cyberspace.
The next 30 days passed easily; the thought of her working on my book came to mind not more than once a minute. At last, right on the appointed day, I received the edits. I perused the book quickly. What was this? Praise for my brilliant word choices and use of clever metaphors? Nope. My engaging character development? Nope. Instead I discovered brittle crunches of footfalls on glass, breaking apart the book’s basic structure. I saw only stark criticism. Expletives inappropriate to this piece erupted unbidden in my mind. I must have made a mistake. I should have chosen an editor more carefully. Who did she think she was? Perhaps she was not “the one.”
I read on. What stung the most was that she was right. The phrases and sentences that my editor shone her light on were flawed. The book was quintessentially damned. I swallowed hard, fluffed up my wrinkled self image, and decided to put it all away for a month or so and turn my attention to painting.
Three months later, when last I could gaze more dispassionately at the debacle, I reread the edits. “Hey, this is not as bad as I’d thought,” I heard myself say. “There’s a lot of good stuff here. There are many parts she actually liked. Maybe I can fix this.”
I set to work once more. A little nip here, a bit of a tuck there. “What the…? That changed this other part. Oh well, another nip and two tucks. Oh, Jeez. Now the whole thing is screwed up.”
In my mind I set the work ablaze, but I could not let go. What was this? In the ashes of my book lay the beginnings of a whole new idea. I changed the name of the main character and that did it. I had a new novel going. Of course, limiting thoughts flooded in. “Do I really want to start over? Am I going to live long enough to ever publish a novel if I continue to start a new one every time I get harsh criticism? Which way to go? Whom can I ask? Who am I?”
“OK, enough already”, I said to the face in the mirror. “Let’s take a breath and settle down. Can the first book be fixed?”
“Are you capable of doing it?”
“Well, probably not at my present skill level; not so anyone would want to read it.”
“Is the plot of the new book better than the first?”
“I think so. I honestly do.”
“Do you like to write? Is it not one of your favorite things to do?”
“Uh, yes, now that you mention it.”
“Then please. Shut up, and sit back down and get to work.”
I'm still learning every day. That 's why I'm attending the Kauai Writers Festival from October 31st to November 6th. A chance to be up close with agents, editors and authors and to rub shoulders with so many other writers. See you there?
by Hiyaguha Cohen
Want to come to the conference but worried about high airfare costs? Here are some tips that might help. Airfare Sales:
You can be almost certain that fares will go down in time to get to the conference. Right now it’s high season, but the conference will be held in low season, when airfares and hotel rooms go on sale. You can be almost certain of getting a lower fare in late October or November. If you want to track prices, go to a site like Booking Buddy
and check the box that says “Alert me when Booking Buddy finds low fares from…” Beat of Hawaii.
If you want to come to the Writers Conference, you owe it to yourself to subscribe to Beat of Hawaii.
This newsletter will notify you when reductions in ticket prices are available. Here’s a link to a Beat of Hawaii article predicting great rates around the time of the 2016 Conference: http://beatofhawaii.com/the-cheapest-time-to-fly-to-hawaii-is-coming-soon/
If you don’t want to wait for a fare sale, you can always try Name Your Own Price
at Priceline. You can also use Priceline to find a great hotel or car rental price. We’ve personally used Priceline to find hotel rooms with spectacular results. Bid low, like 50% of the asking price. Priceline will counteroffer with a suggested amount after your first offer gets rejected. Always go lower than the suggested amount and repeat the process, going slightly higher each bid, until you hit the magic number. Check Multiple Sites:
Prices really do vary from one site like Orbitz
to another, like Skyscanner
. Also, it pays to go directly to the airline site, particularly Hawaiian or Alaska, as you may save on fees. Choose to Fly Midweek:
Generally, fares are lowest on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and highest Fridays and Saturdays. If you have any flexibility in your schedule, check multiple dates. Chop up the Flight:
Sometimes when there are fare sales, you’ll save money by flying in segments that you book separately. For instance, if Virgin America has a great sale from New York to California at $195 each way, it would be cheaper to take that flight and then try to find a reasonable flight from California to Hawaii rather than book a pricey flight directly from New York to Hawaii. Top Airlines to Watch: Alaska Airlines
has some direct flights to Kaua’i (no Honolulu stopover) from the West Coast, as well as good flights from the East Coast, and you’ll find frequent sales. Also, watch Hawaiian Airlines for the best deals and for a direct flight from New York to Honolulu. From the East Coast, both JetBlue and Virgin America will get you to the West Coast, often for less, and then you’ll have to take a separate flight to get to Lihue, Kaua’i.
Hope this helps! Note that we did arrange great reduced hotel rates at the Courtyard Marriott (you have to tell them you’re attending the Writers Conference), and we’re checking into finding cheap rates elsewhere. If you want help arranging your travel, don’t hesitate to call me at 808-639-4517. I’m not a travel agent (I’m a writer, like you), but I’d be happy to steer you in the right direction.
by Dave Rosenberg
This is the story of what leaky pipes made me realize about writing. It started when the water line to my refrigerator developed a pinhole leak. I cut the pipe, removed the piece with the pinhole and was left with the task of figuring out how to rejoin the two pieces of pipe without leakage. First I spent some time online trying to see what products Home Depot had to help me out. But not having a clear sense of what was required, I was quickly confused. So I called Home Depot for advice and, after being on hold for 20 minutes, I was transferred to the plumbing department where my call was promptly dropped. Next, I went to Ace Hardware where the very nice, but ultimately incompetent, salesman sold me $18 of stuff which turned out to be completely irrelevant.
Fortunately, unlike me, my dear wife actually has a brain. She did something really old fashioned, but amazingly effective: she looked up "plumbing supply" in the phone book. Lo and behold, she found Tanaka Hardware in Lihue which specializes in plumbing. I called, described my problem and was told that they had the solution. I was advised to bring the scrap of pipe and they'd show me what to do. So I hopped in my car, pipe segment in hand, and headed to Lihue.
Tanaka Hardware is a small, 100-year-old family-owned store on a side street. It is a maze of floor-to-ceiling shelving units filled with stuff for plumbing and all manner of other repairs. I walked up to the sales clerk and showed him my pipe scrap.
"That's high pressure pipe you got there, brother. That for an ice maker?" Before I could answer, he said "follow me" and guided me through the maze to a rack filled with a surprising array of devices for joining pipes. He looked around for the correct compression fitting and the accompanying stents and plastic collars, then he led me back to the counter and showed me how to use the material. Five dollars and eighty-eight cents later, I was on my way home with the parts and knowledge required to repair the split pipe.
When I got home to make the repair, I successfully attached the compression fitting and rejoined the severed pipes, but in moving them around I unknowingly dislodged another pipe. When I turned the water back on, a gusher quickly covered most of the kitchen floor. Furthermore, the gusher carried away the little clip that had held the dislodged pipe in place and I could not find it. Nothing I did could reattach the pipe despite scratching the bejeezus out of my arm as I reached a great distance under the fridge (a nasty place) in the futile attempt. The water just kept rising in depth on my kitchen floor. I knew I had to call in a pro.
Of course, being a writer, I couldn't help but think about the story elements in this simple tale. There's the battle for survival of a small, venerable, family-owned hardware store against the big-box Goliaths. There's the experienced and skilled clerk whose kindness and abilities go largely unseen in the cold, modern world. There's the way our modern "conveniences" (cell phones, big box stores, voicemail systems, and the online ability to check what's in stock) over-complicate what should be simple problems to solve. There's the way that modern life limits our ability to develop the basic repair skills and knowledge that we need to survive in our own homes. And of course, there's the incompetent guy who keeps getting himself into deeper and deeper doodoo in a vain attempt to save money. It is the stuff of social drama, social commentary, and character development.
My sad tale led me to another writerly reflection, as well. Just as I realized that I was (quite literally) out of my depth and finally caved in and called the Sears repair service, we writers have to know when it is time to stop trying to go it alone. We all need help, whether in the form of feedback from peers or the paid expertise of a professional editor. No book can be successful without the help of many others. In fact, sometimes, we just need the input of a pro who really knows what he or she is doing. That's why it can be so important to attend a writers conference. So I hope you'll avail yourself of the opportunities provided by the Kauai Writers Festival in 2106 to access the expertise of top authors, literary agents, publishing experts and, of course, your very talented peers.
by Jonathan Maberry
I wasn’t always a novelist. Sure, it’s what I do now and it’s my day job. I write, on average, four novels a year in different genre, and I write comics and short stories. But I spent the first twenty-eight years of my writing career focusing entirely on nonfiction. Feature articles on a range of subjects from karate to gift-wrapping to sky-diving. I wrote college textbooks and mass-market how-to books. I wrote product instructions, medical industry call-floor scripts, and training manuals for SWAT and special forces.
Then I decided…what the heck, let’s try fiction.
Mind you, I’d never taken a creative writing class. Not one. I studied journalism in college. So, having the desire to write fiction didn’t instantly transform me into a novelist. And even though I’d always read a lot of fiction that’s not the same as knowing how it’s done. I travel on airplanes a lot but I can’t fly one.
So I had to figure out how to do it. Sounds easy, but it’s not. Of course it’s not.
My approach to learning the craft of writing fiction was similar to the way I did research for my nonfiction books and articles. I made a particular study of the form and its components. I read books on writing, like Natalie Goldberg’s wonderful Writing Down the Bones and the absolutely brilliant Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass (who has since become a close friend). I learned what the elements were that made up a book. That was part one.
Part two, for me, was to select some excellent books in the genre I planned to try. I wanted to write an American gothic horror novel set in small-town America. So I grabbed copies of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot, Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, Robert McCammon’s Mystery Walk, and a few others. I’d read each of these books before but I re-read them several more times. First as a reader, and then repeatedly as a writer. I deconstructed them to look for those elements of craft. I studied the balance of narrative and dialogue; the ways in which POV shifts in an ensemble cast; how figurative and descriptive language was used in different kinds of scenes; pace and action; the benefits of limited and omniscient points of view, and the subtle variations of each. And so on. I leaned close to study the carpentry.
I didn’t do this because I wanted to imitate the style of Stephen King or any of the others. If anything my process was to make sure that I learned elements of craft from them but made absolutely sure that I wasn’t doing any kind of imitation. It’s all about emulation of technical skill without imitation of individual style.
It took me three and a half years to write my first novel, GHOST ROAD BLUES. That included studying the craftsmanship, writing that ugly and overlong first draft, and eighteen layers of revision. The result was a horror novel that appealed to me. It was exactly the kind of book I would go out and buy. And this was the point.
The downside was that in the writing and editing it became very clear to me that I was writing something that could never be contained in one volume. I futzed with it and after finishing the first volume, I decided that there had to be two more volumes to tell the story I wanted to tell. A trilogy. This was 2004. Horror trilogies were a non-existent thing.
Did I expect it to sell? No, not really. But I’d put everything I had into it. Heart and mind, passion and imagination, love and care. If it never sold, then at least I’d stretched myself as a writer and learned new skills.
Finding an agent was tricky –because that’s always tricky. I figured it out, though, and how I did is a story for another time. I wound up landing a young agent, Sara Crowe, who was working for Trident Media. Big agency. Sara, I should note, is no fan of horror fiction. She liked the writing (not the subject matter) and she liked the fact that I approached this with solid business savvy. She took a flyer on my potential more so than the book.
Sara shopped the book. Random House almost bought it, but ultimately passed because they didn’t think a horror trilogy would sell.
Two weeks later Pinnacle Books (an imprint of Kensington) bough it because they thought a horror trilogy would sell. Go figure.
Ghost Road Blues sold well as a mass-market paperback and went on to win the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. And my fiction career transformed from ‘let me try this to see if I can do it’ to ‘this is what I do’.
In 2016 Pinnacle will release special 10th Anniversary Editions of Ghost Road Blues and its sequels. And at this writing I am beginning work on my 25th novel. Two of my books are in development for TV, another is being made into a film. And I’ve hit the NY Times bestseller list several times. All because I wanted to try something I’d never done before.
Funny what happens when you try something new.
Our conference faculty continues to attract stars. I'm happy to announce two major additions: five-time Bram Stoker Award Winner Jonathan Maberrry and founding partner of Folio Literary Management, Jeff Kleinman.
is a NY Times bestselling author, five-time Bram Stoker Award winner, and comic book writer. He was named one of the Today’s Top Ten Horror Writers. His books have been sold to more than two-dozen countries. He writes the Joe Ledger thrillers, the Rot & Ruin series, the Nightsiders series, the Dead of Night series, as well as standalone novels. His comic book works include CAPTAIN AMERICA, MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE AVENGERS, BAD BLOOD, ROT & RUIN, V-WARS, and others. He is the editor of many anthologies including THE X-FILES, SCARY OUT THERE, OUT OF TUNE, and V-WARS. His books EXTINCTION MACHINE and V-WARS are in development for TV, and ROT & RUIN is in development as a series of feature films. A board game version of V-WARS will be released this Christmas. He is the founder of the Writers Coffeehouse, a nationwide series of free networking programs for writers of all genres, and is the co-founder of The Liars Club. Prior to becoming a full-time novelist, Jonathan sold more than 1200 magazine feature articles, 3000 columns, two plays, greeting cards, how-to manuals, song lyrics and poetry. He was a featured expert on the History Channel documentary, Zombies: A Living History and will be a featured in a new cable TV documentary series on monsters in mythology and urban legend. Jonathan lives in Del Mar, California with his wife, Sara Jo. www.jonathanmaberry.com
is a literary agent, intellectual property attorney, and founding partner of Folio Literary Management, LLC, a New York literary agency which works with all of the major U.S. publishers (and, through subagents, with most international publishers). He’s a graduate of Case Western Reserve University (J.D.), the University of Chicago (M.A., Italian), and the University of Virginia (B.A. with High Distinction in English). As an agent, Jeff feels privileged to have the chance to learn an incredibly variety of new subjects, meet an extraordinary range of people, and feel, at the end of the day, that he’s helped to build something – a wonderful book, perhaps, or an author’s career. His authors include the New York Times
bestsellers The Art of Racing in the Rain
(Garth Stein), The Snow Child
(a Pulitzer finalist; Eowyn Ivey), Widow of the South
(Robert Hicks), and Mockingbird
(Charles Shields), among other books.
Nonfiction: especially narrative nonfiction with a historical bent, but also memoir, health, parenting, aging, nature, pets, how-to, nature, science, politics, military, espionage, equestrian, biography.
Fiction: very well-written, character-driven novels; some suspense, thrillers; otherwise mainstream upmarket commercial (i.e. book club) and literary fiction.
No: children’s, romance, mysteries, westerns, poetry, or screenplays, novels about serial killers, suicide, or children in peril (kidnapped, killed, raped, etc.).
Learn more about Jeff: www.foliolit.com/jeffkleinman/.
The Latest: A Star-Studded Faculty
by Dave Rosenberg
Once again, our faculty for 2016 will feature world-class authors and literary agents. To date we have commitments from Priya Parmar, Nicolas Delbanco (who will also teach a two-day master class on fiction during the workshops), Jill Landis (our local fiction-writing star), Elena Delbanco (The Silver Swan
) and literary agent Andy Ross. Here are their bios:Priya Parmar
Click here for Priya's bioNicholas Delbanco
Nicholas Delbanco is the Robert Frost Distinguished University Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan and Chair of the Hopwood Committee. He has published twenty-five books of fiction and non-fiction. His most recent novels are The Count of Concord
and Spring and Fall
; his most recent works of non-fiction are The Countess of Stanlein Restored
and The Lost Suitcase: Reflections on the Literary Life.
As editor he has compiled the work of, among others, John Gardner and Bernard Malamud. The long-term Director of the MFA Program as well as the Hopwood Awards Program at the University of Michigan, he has served as Chair of the Fiction Panel for the National Book Awards, received a Guggenheim Fellowship and, twice, a National Endowment for the Arts Writing Fellowship. Professor Delbanco has just completed a teaching text for McGraw-Hill entitled Literature: Craft and Voice,
a three-volume Introduction to Literature of which he is the co-editor with Alan Cheuse; in 2004 he published The Sincerest Form: Writiing Fiction by Imitation
. His new non-fiction book, Lastingness: The Art of Old Age
was published by Grand Central Publishing in 2011.Jill Landis
Click here for Jill's bio
Elena Delbanco has recently published her debut novel The Silver Swan
with Other Press at age 70. Before moving to Ann Arbor, she worked at Bennington College in Vermont, where she and her husband, the writer Nicholas Delbanco, together with the late John Gardner, founded the Bennington Writing Workshops. Delbanco has long been engaged in the world of classical music. Her father was the renowned cellist Bernard Greenhouse (of the Beaux Arts Trio), who owned the Countess of Stainlein ex-Paganini Stradivarius violoncello of 1707. The imagined fate of that instrument, upon her father’s death, inspired The Silver Swan
. She retired after teaching for twenty-seven years at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Andy Ross
Click here for Andy's bio.
Insights from Agents
by Dave Rosenberg
In researching faculty members for our 2016 conference, we came upon an interview with a variety of prominent literary agents on YouTube. (You'll find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qL5bcAXTZys
.) It is jam-packed with interesting tidbits of information. Here are a few that jumped out at me:Adaptations of Books for Film
Most of the agents described the process of adapting novels into movies as very frustrating.The question seemed to be, why does a film company option a book when they often don't bother to use most of it in the film script? Interestingly, one of the agents characterized YA authors as having more clout in keeping the film faithful to their books because their fans are much more "rabid" and much more likely to use social media to condemn a movie that isn't faithful to the original.Demand for Books in Cable TV Industry
The cable TV industry has a much higher demand for books (as the basis of series and specials) than the film industry. However, the TV industry doesn't have a lot of money to spend on books, so the demand doesn't translate into big advances. However, being picked up by TV is probably the best marketing your book can get.Publishers Chase Trends that Work
Publishers often shy away from fresh, new ideas (e.g. ideas that haven't been proven by the market). But once an idea has been shown to work, publishing companies look for other works that are derivative. That's why we see trends like zombies and vampire books, dystopian novels, and so on.Memoir
The agents seemed to agree that the memoirs they keep an eye out for are the ones that are written by the subject and which have a literary approach. Much of the discussion involved celebrity memoirs, and quite obviously, fame or notoriety can be of great help in selling a memoir. So developing your author's platform and being able to show that you have an audience is quite important for memoir writers.The Blogosphere is Critical to the Promotion of Books
Positive reviews of books in well-followed blogs has more impact on sales than all other media. This is even more the case in YA. In general, having a relationship with your fans through blogs, Twitter, Facebook and social media is critical to successful sales. Knowing who your audience is and interacting with them "informs the rest of the process."
There's much more in the interview and I think you'll find watching it interesting and worth while. Of course, none of this is to diminish the fact that we write because we're committed to telling/discovering our stories. But it can be nice to sell those stories....'Nuff said.
by Dave Rosenberg
For some reason, I recently found myself thinking about a poetry course that I took back in the early 2000s. I remember the professor extolling William Carlos Williams' dictum "no ideas but in things." At the time this struck me as an impossibility. How can you express ideas without, well, ideas I wondered? The professor's response was to share two poems, one by Williams and one by Ezra Pound.
The Red Wheelbarrow
William Carlos Williams
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
I won't be so bold as to hazard an interpretation, but the one thing I will share is that both poems make me cock my head (perhaps a bit like the white chickens) and think differently about how I experience what I'm reading. I can absolutely experience the red wheel barrow and the passing crowd in the metro station, even though the information provided is so minimal. What an amazing accomplishment by these poets. And for me, it's not just the words themselves. Even the line breaks are critical to the impact of the images in both poems. They create an emphasis and a rhythm that drives the experience home.
Isn't that what all good writing should do -- catapult the reader into a visceral experience? And if that's true, it seems to me that looking at the tools that poets use learning how to employ them is a great idea for fiction, memoir and nonfiction writers. I researched some examples of "lyrical" fiction writing to illustrate this. Here are a couple of remarkable passages:
First, from Sherman Alexie's "What You Pawn I Will Redeem."
"I wrapped myself in my grandmother’s regalia and breathed her in. I stepped off the sidewalk and into the intersection. Pedestrians stopped. Cars stopped. The city stopped. They all watched me dance with my grandmother. I was my grandmother, dancing." (Blasphemy, p. 464)
Now, from Jhumpa Lahiri's "A Real Durwan."
"She was sixty-four years old, with hair in a knot no larger than a walnut, and she looked almost as narrow from the front as she did from the side.
"In fact, the only thing that appeared three-dimensional about Boori Ma was her voice: brittle with sorrows, as tart as curds, and shrill enough to grate meat from a coconut." (p. 70)
The beauty of these prose examples has to do with rhythm, word choice, imagery, and metaphor. Most prose writers focus on things like the story arc, sub plots, character development and the like. At some point in the writing, however, thinking about word choices, the rhythm of sentences, the use of metaphors, and the use of images is also essential. I guess that's an argument that prose writers also need to embrace -- or to develop -- their inner poet.
Make Me Effin' Care
by Dave Rosenberg
A week or so ago, this thing was going around on Facebook that incorporated the "f word" into every sentence. It was advice for copy writers, writers, and artists. One of the statements in this post grabbed me because it is the task of every writer in every genre: "Make me effin' care."
I have often wondered how writers achieve that. Crime writers tend to be great at it. One of my favorites is Robert B. Parker. While not high literature in any sense of the word, his work is truly engaging and he gets you to care in about two paragraphs. How? I'm not sure. Part of it may have to do with the point of view of his detectives -- Spenser, Sunny Randall, and Jesse Stone. Maybe another element is that he quickly introduces you to someone whose problem the detective must help to solve and that person is typically either very sympathetic or very repugnant. You just want to know what happens to them
Making the reader care is no small thing, whether you're writing nonfiction, biography, memoir, or a novel. Maybe this is clearest in books based on an anti-hero. Take Josef K in Kafka's Notes from Underground. Somehow, Kafka gets you to connect to Josef K, despite his personal limitations and egoism. In fact, part of what makes us read about antiheroes is that, despite the awful things they do, they have human qualities that we like and identify with. That is, we somehow care about them. I looked up a list of antiheroes to check this idea out and I'm pretty sure it's right. Think about Humbert Humbert (Lolita), Macbeth (actually, Shakespeare created a slew of antiheroes including Hamlet, Othello, Lear, and more), Scarlett O'Hara (Gone with the Wind), Alex (A Clockwork Orange), Easy Rawlins (Walter Mosely's detective), Gollum (The Lord of the Rings). The list goes on and on.
Whatever else you're doing in your book, making the reader care is a core challenge. I'm wrestling with this in my own work. My main character is not necessarily likeable, so I struggle to find ways to make the reader continue to care about him. I've also seen this challenge in action in my wife Hiyaguha's work too. She's currently revising her book to incorporate the suggestions made by her literary agent. He thinks these suggestions will help to get it published. And I've been amazed that her revisions have made me care more and more about her main characters, despite having read the material numerous times and having cared from the start. In fact, as a result of observing this process, I get the feeling that you can determine whether revisions are worthwhile, in part, by whether they increase the reader's ability to care.
So maybe we writers should embrace this as a motto and enshrine the words on our computer screens, writing pads and tee shirts: "Make me efin' care."
By David Dinner
OK. The book is finished, complete with The End right where it belongs. Now what? Go directly to a publisher in a kamikaze all-or-nothing move? Write to the lone agent I’ve met and beg for mercy? Surreptitiously print the book out in hard copy and file it under “Fugeddaboudit?” Wait! Why am I panicking? Let me just look long and hard at the product.
The first question that comes to mind is, “Is this novel really ready to publish?” That is quickly followed by, “How would I know? I’ve never published a book before.” After all the work I’ve put into it, I’m not about to relegate it to the never-to-be-seen again bin, but it seems a bad idea to put it out there before it is ready. Once I submit to agents or publishers, I can’t revisit those same folks, saying I fixed it and would they look at it again, please. Bad form and unlikely to succeed. This put me in mind of what one of the agents at the San Francisco Writers Conference said so emphatically. “Before you present your novel for publication, get it professionally edited.”
That sounds to me like wise counsel. I had briefly searched for an editor at an earlier juncture, before the latest rewrite. I learned that practically all editors are seeking clients and some will pursue you like a hound dog once they are on to your scent. But, as in all fields of endeavor, the range of capability and experience is vast. And guess what. Those who have the enviable experience of having worked for publishers are very much in demand and must be courted just like agents. They have no interest in working on a book that will end up in the drawer. They want to have their efforts published and successful. And they want to be interested in the subjects they edit.
So what? So, I’ll just do the work to find a few editors with book publishing experience and write to them. They can’'t bite me. The worst they could do is say no. What followed that internal dialogue was an exquisitely crafted letter to four editors asking if they would consider editing my novel. No one could turn it down, I was positive. Two wrote back immediately, asking for samples and yesterday, the first response arrived to the 20 pages I sent. I noticed the email on my iPhone while I tooled around the island shopping for Christmas. No, I wanted to read this on my computer in a chair, not on the fly, so, with great discipline, I averted my eyes from the phone and spent my heart out in the stores. When I got home, I opened my computer, peeking at Mail through one eye. There it was, in no uncertain terms, my first rejection.
Until you receive a rejection of your novel, you cannot truly appreciate the sinking feeling of remorse. Worse than the experience of having your desperation shot blocked in the final seconds of a nail biter basketball game. Worse even than getting turned down when you ask that irresistible object of your desire for a night on the town. Why? Why do I find the rejection of my art so elemental? It’s just words on the paper. It’s not me. Or is it?
This work was years in the making. It is the very best I could do. And dammit, you better like it or I’m going to be upset. Tight throat, ragged breathing, pain in the belly. It is me. I’m not good enough. What ever gave me the idea that I could write a book? I should have stuck with my first draft. Maybe my dad was right. I should have been a janitor.
But after seconds (well maybe hours) of reflection, I realized the shortcomings of that line of thinking. Sure, I was experiencing honest and authentic emotions and feelings. But they were not going to bear fruit. Going in that direction might be emotionally therapeutic, but it will not bring me closer to publication. So, what to do?
I decided to leave my pity party in the domain of feeling and step into a different mind set. I decided to examine the realm of “being.” So I asked myself a simple question. “In this situation, who am I being?” I want to know, am I being someone who will give up and be discouraged at anyone else’s opinion? Am I being someone who is lost in my own self-concern to the point that I lose my way? Am I being someone who lacks the courage to follow my dream? Or conversely, does my clarity come from within me and not from others. Can I take constructive criticism and use it to better my book rather than destroy myself. Am I being the kind of person who follows my vision through until it is manifested? Am I being a writer who will soon be an author? And if I am, what does that look like in my behavior?
It looked like not ignoring my feelings, but instead, setting them aside to deal with at a later date.
I did not write a book in order to process my feelings or for my drawer to enjoy. I wrote it to experience writing it and for others to savor. It’s my intention that it will, in some way enrich their lives. I won’t allow rejection to take me out of my game. I will use it to add fuel to the fire of my vision until I have a blaze. At least one great editor is bound to be drawn to the flames.
So, when the Kauai Writers Conference comes around in May, I will be there and will be prepared. I am an author in the seed. Editors, agents and publishers take your best shot. You may say no, but I will not be rejected.